Joint Forest Management Essay

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The Food And Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines Joint Forest Management as “a forest management strategy under which the government (represented by the Forest Department) and the village community enter into an agreement to jointly protect and manage forestlands adjoining villages and to share responsibilities and benefits.”

Taking from the principle of the “Inhabited Forest,” Joint Forest Management (JFM) aims to promote a fair way to define and organize the relationships between four elements: the state, forests, forest exploiters, and the local population. Instead of conceiving the local communities as nonexperts or ignorant indigenous who can not exploit forest or take advantage of the woods or would spoil the resources, Joint Forest Management calls for local people’s participation with the forest exploiters, keeping in mind that most of the productive forestland (known as “Public Forests,” or “Crown land” in Canada) is owned by the state: that is, the whole population. In that sense, Joint Forest Management is conceived as a way to fight poverty or to avoid conflicts with aboriginal groups, wherever forest resources are exploited in a specific region.

In many aspects, Joint Forest Management as a concept emerges from the principles of various, earlier perspectives such as “local community involvement in conservation,” social forestry, ecomanagement, and sustainable development. For instance, an early report made for the United States Agency for International Development in Nepal in 1978 already called for “Community Involvement in Conservation.” Furthermore, sociologist Nandini Sundar even argues that the idea of Joint Forest Management already existed in the 1930’s (without using that specific expression), but the strategy did not flourish because it did not have the support of advocacy groups and NGOs.

In many ways, the advent of Joint Forest Management is like a possible answer to the wish of Jack Westoby (1912-88), who was Senior Director of the Department of Forestry at the FAO, when he called for “a truly social forestry,” made first for humans. In his posthumus book Introduction to World Forestry: People and Their Trees, Westoby argued that “Forestry is not about trees, it is about people. And it is about trees only insofar as trees can serve the needs of people.”

Although many initiatives were experienced in the 1980’s, Joint Forest Management officially began in India in 1990, when the Government of India issued its new policy guidelines for the involvement of village communities and voluntary agencies in the regeneration of degraded forest lands. Currently, Joint Forest Management is applied in a few countries, like Nepal, Australia, Canada, India (in the province of Karnataka), and in some African countries.

Since Joint Forest Management is an evolving policy in various contexts, critics and concerns have been raised, for instance by communities who were counting on more stable profits. Sharachchandra Lele, from the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment & Development (CISED) in Bangalore has expressed some worries.

That emerging concept has various labels that are much similar. In Canada (and mostly in Quebec), Joint Forest Management is refered to as “Amenagement conjoint des forets.” In France, NGOs use a rather different expression: “Gestion forestiere conjointe.” In India, people sometimes say “Joint Forest Planning and Management,” “Participatory Forestry,” or “Participatory Forest Management.” A group of Canadian scholars have published an online annotated bibliography on Joint Forest Management, which remains the most comprehensive source on that matter.


  1. G. Campbell, Community Involvement in Conservation. (United States Agency for International Development, 1978);
  2. Government of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Joint Forest Management: A Decade of Partnership (Resource Unit for Participatory Forestry, 2002);
  3. Mary Hobley, Building State-People Relationships in Forestry, (Overseas Development Institute, 2005);
  4. Kate Schreckenberg, Cecilia Luttrell, and Catherine Moss, Participatory Forest Management: An Overview. Forest Policy and Environment Programme (Overseas Development Institute, 2006);
  5. Erin Sherry, Gail Fondahl, Berverly Bird, and Regine Halseth, Joint Forest Management: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Resources (University of Northern British Columbia, 2003);
  6. Jack Westoby, Introduction to World Forestry: People and Their Trees (Blackwell, 1989).

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